Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sweet reading

Wesleyan's library offers a small section on food tucked away on the second floor of the science center. Not even the perspecuity of science could help you find your way there. But I've hansel and greteled my route and return during study breaks when I need a fix. Recently, I found this small book there -- it's entirely in French, and I can't read a word of it. But I love it already. La cuisine de marguerite. Maybe I'll try to make some transliterative concoctions by guessing what the short recipes detail.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


The thing about cake is, it's bittersweet. This is the centripetal cake of birthdays, of homecomings and goings. Layered. Frosted. Cut and laid on its side. It’s full of meaning, but saccharine sweet. That is to say, something is always lost in the utter joy of cake, its insufferable celebration swallows disparity.

This blog is a little like cake. Who's to say that this is truth? It's certainly not all of the truth. Life hits the internet and is sweet, whole and designed.

My family’s joke is that my aunt gets cake from a bakery in Boston’s Chinatown where they don’t speak very much English, so no matter what frosting-inscribed message you ask for, you always get, simply, “Happy.” Imagine, a cake that asks so little of the moment and yet, so much – just happy.

Never have I had a cake that quite delivered on that word, happy. It makes me wonder. What is it that we want to give others when we make food for them? Is it happiness? Or nourishment? Or pleasure? Moreover, what are we asking for when we make and give food? Food in return? Control? Praise? Recognition of enacted womanhood?

Can I ever just bake a cake? Even if I’m the only one who eats it, is it already for someone else? When I chronicle some of the food I make and eat, is it like giving it to you? Are we responsible to each other?

Do I owe an explanation when I choose to write in the denigrated gendered genre of confessional food writing? Do you owe me the understanding that I am something more than woman - baker, feeder, caretaker of man?

It's with these questions that I give you cake.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Raspberries

for slow meditation on the nature of gender

The génoise cake is adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking With Julia.

3 tablespoons hot clarified unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Fit the bottom of two 4-inch cake pans with parchment paper and set aside. Pour the hot clarified butter into a bowl with the vanilla and also set that aside. Also, sift the flour and cocoa powder when you measure them, and then sift them together a few times, too.

In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar together. (You could also do this all by hand in a heatproof bowl.) Set the bowl over another bowl of simmering water on the stove. Whisk constantly until the eggs are warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the heat and, working with the mixer's whisk attachment, beat the eggs on high speed until they're cool, have tripled in volume, and hold a ribbon when you lift the whisk.

Sift one third of the dry ingredients over the eggs and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients and do the same. Spoon one cup of this into the hot butter and vanilla mixture. Stir this around, then add it back to the bowl of batter. Gently fold this all together.

Pour the batter into the two prepared cake tins and bake them for about 20 minutes. While they cool, whip 2 parts heavy cream and 1 part sugar together to make whipped cream. Then, make this chocolate ganache frosting recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

½ pound semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/4 stick unsalted butter

In a small saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until melted. Cut the butter into pieces and add it to the frosting, whisking until smooth. Transfer frosting to a bowl resting in an ice water bath and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable.

Take the cake layers out of their tins when they have completely cooled. Put one cake on a plate. Spread chestnut puree (you can get this at It's Only Natural - so good on toast) over the top, then follow with the whipped cream. Place the second cake on top. Now spread the ganache frosting over the top and sides of the cake with a spatula. Arrange raspberries around the top, and dust with confectioners' sugar.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's summer in my backyard

Smoothies make me think of buying saccharine drinks from the town mall's Orange Julius when I was too young to buy anything more than cheap lip gloss with sparkles and frosted eyeshadows. I suppose I thought the Orange Julius was an accessory itself. The drinks had their faddish moment, and we sipped them slowly, so we could be sure to be seen walking with them. I drank them because my friends drank them, or rather, we heard that people were drinking them.

A smoothie as we know it is a relatively new thing, but it's always been cool. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the word's most recent use to 1977. Before that the word was used to denote someone suave, cultured and debonair. As the Princeton Weekly Review of May 24, 1929 says, "Smoothie..indicates savoir faire, a certain je ne sais quoi... Clothes do much to make the smoothie."

How intuitive was I at thirteen! And the smoothie that I made today is all that - a vivacious combination of frozen cherries, blueberries and raspberries. Now, I like my smoothies like my milkshakes - really thick, so thick I always consider using a spoon to eat it and then ultimately decide it's less fun that way. That being said, you could add some orange juice (à la my eighth-grade self) and that would make it a perfect slurping consistency. You could also add flax meal if you're feeling saucy.


1/2 cup frozen berries
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup plain yogurt
smashed ice

Smash your desired amount of ice (maybe 3, 4 ice cubes) in the food processor. Then add the rest of the ingredients and blend until the mixture is still a little bit chunky.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Another lunch for one

Sundried tomato pesto and sprouts on homemade honey wheat bread (a take on the loaf I just wrote about). The pesto recipe is from a great, recent New York Times article by Eric Asimov on wine bars in the city.

Sundried Tomato and Walnut Pesto
adapted from Jody Williams

1 cup shelled walnuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
3 sprigs of thyme
a pinch of salt
splash of sherry vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced sundried tomatoes

It's a simple as blending this in a food processor to your desired consistency, and I do mean desired. It's delicious.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The first time I cooked an artichoke,

I liked it.

On bread and wonder

Have you been wondering? This blog's title isn't just a name, I actually do make bread. And this loaf - well, this one has butter in it. Two things have happened recently: I've decided to try Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking with Julia, one recipe at a time. And I’ve stolen Jesse’s Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer! Which means it’s time to experiment. I thought I would start as simply as I could – with white bread.

Around the time I found this recipe, a short trip to the Oxford English Dictionary online turned up this gem for the meaning of “bread and butter,” our titular phrase:

4. a. attrib.; spec. Of or pertaining to the age when bread-and-butter is extensively consumed; boyish, girlish; esp. (cf. quot. 1817 in 1) school-girlish.

It’s perfect. This recipe is for exactly the kind of bread I imagine packing up in a little kid’s lunch, Cheddar cheese and ham in-between its easy crumb. Or, rather, this is precisely the kind of bread I wished my sandwiches were on when I was a little schoolgirl myself (aside from my penchant for Portuguese rolls, whose flour coating would so satisfyingly scatter over you when you bit into them).

Now, I learned to make French bread from my Dad. Then I got a little schooling in yeasts and seeds and patience from a boy, Corey, I went hiking with the summer I turned fifteen. And finally, I met Claudia. She taught a class on bread-making that I took last summer in Florence. Claudia is someone I think of often. She was… like the perfect loaf of bread, hard and crusty on the outside (I mean, she hit people) and yet all soft and crumb on the inside. She was caring and sensitive and yet she pulled baked loaves out of the oven with her bare, callused hands. Meet Claudia.

Claudia also made obscene faces at the bread machine in the corner of the room. Her accent was such that every time she told us to use the sheeter to flatten a dough, it sounded like she was commanding us to the “shitter.” Machines just weren’t the point of the class. We were there to use our hands, to feel the dough – “our babies,” she called them. And if you were bad to your baby, well you knew what was coming and you were afraid.

So it was with this in mind that I approached the Kitchen Aid mixer last week. It was metal. It was leaking oil. And it was mine to play with. Real ambivalence took hold. I broke, and made this recipe by hand. It was good – it was great! - but the curiosity was getting to me. So a week later I made the recipe again, this time with the machine. Mary Claire came downstairs at the height of my anxiety. I hovered over the bowl. I couldn’t feel the dough, I couldn’t tell what was happening. Still, somewhere around the seventh minute it started to look like bread dough. And sure enough, when I felt it, it was.

I couldn’t say whether either method produced a better loaf. I liked kneading the first time; I liked how fast it all was the second. Suffice it to say, there are some breads that are meant for hands, and arms, and the whole torso working into the dough. And then there are some for the thrill of electric convenience. I think I'll take both.

White Loaves
from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia

2.5 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
7 cups (aprox.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

Pour 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, sprinkle in the yeast and sugar, and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture the rest until the yeast is creamy, maybe 5 minutes.

Working in the mixer with the dough hook in place, add the remaining 2 cups water and 3.5 cups flour to the yeast. Mixing on low speed, add another 3.5 cups flour. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together. Add the salt and continue to beat at medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then add the butter one tablespoon at a time, and beat until incorporated. Don't worry if the dough comes apart when you add butter, beating will bring it back together. If you're doing all this by hand, it's going to take you about 25 minutes. Be patient.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a buttered bowl that can hold twice the amount of dough. Turn the dough around to cover it in the butter, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in size, maybe 45 minutes to an hour.

Butter two 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pans and set them aside. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and deflate it (gently! no punching!).

Divide the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Using the palms of your hands or a rolling pin, pat the dough into a large rectangle about 9 inches wide and 12 inches long, with the short side facing you. Starting at the top, fold the dough about two thirds of the way down the rectangle and then fold it again, so that the top edge meets the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching it. Turn the roll so that the seam is in the center of the roll, facing up, and turn the ends of the roll in just enough so that it will fit in the loaf pan. Pinch the seams to seal, turn the loaf over so that the seals are on the bottom, and plump the loaf in your hands to get a sort of even shape. Drop the loaf into its pan, seam side down, and repeat with the other piece of dough.

For the second rise, cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap, and allow them to rise in a warm place (about 80 degrees) until they double in size again, growing over the tops of the pans, maybe 45 minutes. While they’re rising, center a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

When the loaves have risen (you should be able to poke the dough, and the impression will remain) bake them for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they’re honey brown. Remove the loaves from their pans as soon as they come out of the oven, and let them cool almost completely before cutting them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In-between class Ikea fantasy

Edit: And then there were these handmade spoons from LiveWire Farm.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The camino and the cake

I've been making this cake for years since I found it on the internet somewhere. In a plethora of questionable online recipes, this one is golden. The cake is small, it's a whole lot of nut, and there's nothing saccharine about it. Yet even with spelt flour it's light because of the beaten egg whites. I also add hazelnut extract and rosewater, but you don't have to. In the summer, I top the cake with fresh whipped cream and berries or small slices of plum. But Friday's version was inspired by Mary Claire's stories of walking the Camino in Spain, where the local people would feed her cheese and honey in-between long stretches of hiking. It was her idea to put the ricotta cheese on the cake, and oh, was she right.

Almond Cake
for Dad's birthday and dinner with new friendsMake sure the rack is in the middle of the oven, preheat to 400 degrees.

Pulse the almonds with 1/3 cup sugar in a food processor. In a large bowl, add the almond sugar mixture, yolks, flour, salt, milk, vanilla, hazelnut extract, and rosewater. Whisk together.

Now, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to get soft peaks. Slowly add the other 1/3 cup sugar with the beaters on medium speed until you get stiffer peaks. Then add the egg whites to the batter in thirds, by gently folding in to the center of the bowl.

Pour this into a buttered and dusted 9x2” pan – whatever you have. Bake the cake for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Cool it for five minutes, invert it onto rack and wait for it to cool fully. Then spread the top with ricotta cheese and pour drips of honey all over it. If you want, caramelize some walnuts by frying them in a pan with sugar and butter, and put them on top.

Friday, April 11, 2008

To table, college-aged and hungry

The New York Times has discovered the alluring and the alarming of campus gastronomy, all detailed in an article from Wednesday that announces “Latest College Reading Lists: Menus with Pho and Lobster.” Oh my! As if the ivory tower needed a little more ivory. Left, the glittering chandeliers over a dining hall at Virginia Tech, where students can order a grilled rib-eye plated to perfection. And right, mussels in steaming green curry from Bowdoin, not without spring onion garnish.

The article reads: “as palates grow more sophisticated and admissions become more competitive, many top colleges are paying attention to dining rooms as well as classrooms.” In many ways, this a blog about being a college student and eating. So, first, let’s be clear. The main concern for most coeds is not whether the campus plates match their sophisticated palates, but that the food at school is simply palatable at all.

However much we love to gripe (about trifling issues and matters of real concern about expense and not being able to get off the meal plan), Wesleyan does have its culinary moments - and the Times article recognizes this. In the article, the University promises not haute cuisine, but political positions that motivate food choices:

“Jenna, an 18-year-old vegetarian from St. Louis, Mo., was particularly impressed by Wesleyan University. ‘I heard a lot about organic food co-ops and the little organic store where you can use your dining card, and those things are important to me,’ she said of its offerings.”

Calling Weshop a "little organic store" is a bit of a stretch, but I'll grant that they do sell a fair amount of organic products. And I had dinner with the people who run that co-op the other night, Tressa and Ellie, who also set up the farmers’ market last week. There are a lot of people here who care about eating really delicious food, and still more who are deeply committed to organic and local farming and food-making. I think the campus and the community benefit from the critical thought and work they put into food.

Case in point: even at this time of year, last week's market was lovely. Fabulously speckled Araconda eggs, hydroponic greens, jams from that sweet and informative couple, Dick and Dot Wingate of Studio Farm Products in Voluntown, whose relish I once told you about, lunch prepared by the River Tavern of Chester, and the always impressive Bloomsday cheese from Cato Corner in Colchester. The father-daughter pair of Meriano’s Bake Shoppe of Guilford gave me a fresh cannoli with the ricotta filling piped in right in front of me. Whoa.

And last weekend's Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, "Food: Power and Identity," led by Government professor John Finn, was wonderful. Over the course of a few days over 100 attendees enjoyed lectures, discussion panels and meals together, asking questions like: What kind of food are we eating, and what kind should we be eating? What should we teach about food? And also, what can food teach us? This blog wants to continue to ask some of those questions. And! As a contributing reporter for the Argus, I got to interview some people in the food world that I've read and respected for years. You can read my article on the seminar from Monday’s Argus here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lunch for one

I'm behind on posts that I've been meaning to put up - bear with me while I get my footing after this glorious past weekend, which I'll write about soon enough! Left-over frozen peas, kalamata olives, thyme and lemon juice make an impromptu tapenade, and pea shoots and tomato accompany a fried egg over lightly on freshly baked bread.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

We fed Beach House

When you’re cooking for musicians, remember: an empty stomach does not a good show make. At the same time, it’s not about a long and elaborate meal. You want the food to be ready just before sound check is done, so they can come in, eat a warm meal, and then go get ready. Eating well is always nice, but - though I may be thinking about this stuff all the time - it’s really not what the night’s about. Simplicity is paramount.

My pell-mell career as an occasional caterer for rock stars big and small has taught me that much. Usually Anna, who's the one making the concerts happen, and I dish up pasta with homemade sauce and a salad. But what to cook for a band like the Baltimore phenomenon of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand, Beach House?

To me their music is tinged with nostalgia, lush and uncanny, and it made me want to make them an exciting meal. A few nights ago, I was reading an old copy of Gourmet, and it had a glorious spread of Middle Eastern food. The colors were at once saturated and muted, all burnt pistachios and rosewater. It seemed so right for the concert. (This may or may not be because of the now indelible falafel cart outside Eclectic.) I wanted to make an assortment of dishes that they could sample, and pitas to hold everything together so that we could eat with our hands. Spices and sweets together. Textures and temperatures playing off one another. I had 50 dollars to cover dinner for eleven.

I made a list. The day of the show, Mary Claire and I woke up early in the morning to go to the Super A&P, which always makes me think of Updike, in search of the sweet spot between dirt cheap and delicious.

I would start with an eggplant dish. That would be the linchpin of the meal – substantial and hearty. I would cut a few eggplants up and roast them with tomatoes and onions, cumin, turmeric and nutmeg, pouring olive oil over it all generously. Then I wanted something cool, a response. I would make a kind of tzatziki – as easy as some chopped cucumber, minced dill, Greek yogurt and salt. What next? Hummus. Bon Appetit’s latest issue has a recipe for pea tendril hummus. And I thought, “Well, I’m on a budget here, so I’ll just buy some frozen peas and some hummus tahini, and one fancy hummus with lemon zest.” And I threw it all in the food processor and showered it with paprika and scallions. Mary Claire made a savory couscous with raisins and cinnamon. Some marinated olives, lettuce, and pitas held it all together. And for dessert, I halved dates and quartered oranges, drizzled them with balsamic and honey, and baked them, adding some mint leaves on top.

I ate with Beach House and the band they tour with, Papercuts. They were lovely and appreciative and cracked some very dirty jokes. We talked about the aphrodisiac powers of dates, the perils of diner breakfasts, and the long and sassy history of the glove slap. May they always come hungry and make such sweet music.